What's yours is mine: How Monaco made player feedback its own

When players first tried out Monaco, the neon-colored heist game by Pocketwatch Games, their feedback was at odds with some of the game's fundamental rules. In a talk today at the Game Developer's Conference in San Francisco, level designer Andy Nguyen illustrated how the developer listened to players without compromising Pocketwatch's vision for a new spin on stealth. To the uninformed observer, it might even appear as if Monaco simply plugged its ears and shook criticism off.

Monaco was thrust into the hands of 400 beta testers, some of whom felt obstructed by the strict line-of-sight vision granted to the game's would-be burglars. They wanted to see the whole map, not just what was in front of them, and plan the heist looking from the top down. "When i think about that, it reminds me of the idea of traditional stealth, and what traditional stealth means to people," Nguyen said, drawing a comparison to another breakout hit in the stealth genre, Mark of the Ninja. Unlike that game, however, Monaco wasn't positioned as a game about observation and flawless execution of the plan. Like a heist film, the goal was to foster frantic escapes, improvisation and exciting moments-gone-wrong.

Rather than lose the dangerous aspects of a literal line of sight, Nguyen said, Monaco's cast was bolstered with the "lookout" character type. The lookout can see guard movements across the map, giving some additional information to the planning player without undercutting the tension too much. But even the guards in Monaco, who randomly select their patrol routes, came under fire in beta feedback.


Predictable guard patterns, Nguyen said, "lends itself to this idea that the game can be solved, like a puzzle game." That didn't suit Monaco either, but as with Metal Gear Solid, players clearly wanted to gain an advantage against guards. As a result, Monaco got some additional tools, allowing players to tranquilize guards, for example. Instead of deleting the perceived problem, Nguyen and co. expanded on the strategic possibilities in Monaco and reinforced the idea of improvisation.

Finally, players lamented the lack of failure and punishment in Monaco – again recalling the traditional stealth genre, in which the player is in a precarious position of power, only to be spotted and killed. The solution, Nguyen said, was to change the narrative around the game and adjust expectations.

Monaco just wasn't a game to ghost through. Nguyen addressed the issue through the games press: "We told them it's not a stealth game, and why we thought it was fun despite not being a stealth game." This was a failure not in the game's design, per se, but in successfully conveying the idea behind it.

As Nguyen put it, "The game is essentially a conduit," and "you have to change the game so you can transfer the game appropriately." Players can tell you how to change the conduit, but they won't know what the idea is - until you successfully get it into their heads.
[Images: Pocketwatch Games, AOL]

This article was originally published on Joystiq.